The Call of The World
Author's note: This is an alternate universe Ranma 1/2 story that takes place in The World R:2 sometime after the events of .hack/Roots, the original .hack/G.U. trilogy, and the Returner anime episode.
Disclaimer: Ranma 1/2 is not my idea, nor is .hack/G.U. and I don't own them or any of the characters.
Chapter 1: Welcome to The World
"Master Yata! Master Yata!"
Inside of a digital room filled with screens displaying scrolling lines of text, a woman with pink pigtails ran frantically over to a dark-skinned man who was presently browsing through game logs.
"What is it, Pi?" Yata asked calmly. The bald-headed man, dressed in a maroon robe, had his hand placed over a golden orb that acted as the main terminal for what was known as the Serpent of Lore, a system used to investigate bugs and monitor certain players, among other things.
The woman named Pi quickly brought up onto a screen a log file that caught her attention.
"Please look at this!"
Scanning over the lines of text, Yata's eyes narrowed slightly as he realized what had his assistant in an uproar. "Another instance of PC altering?"
"Exactly, just like the previous one we've been monitoring," Pi explained, a concerned tone in her voice. "Master Yata, what could be causing this? I thought AIDA weren't disrupting The World anymore."
"True. Although we know AIDA still exist within The World, they don't appear to have any malicious intent," Yata replied, folding his arms over his chest as he tried to analyze the situation. "I still believe the most likely scenario is that the players are illegally altering their own character data, but we've yet to find any irrefutable evidence of that."
The controversial system administrator skimmed over the file further. "This character was just created recently. Did you set up a check program?"
"Yes, based on the pattern we observed in the other instance," Pi replied, adjusting her glasses. "Should we take action?"
"No. For now, we will continue to monitor them," Yata told her. "Pi, please continue to watch for more cases of these altered characters."
"Yes, sir," she answered obediently.
The woman bowed politely and walked out of the room, leaving Yata to himself. Intrigued by the arrival of the new anomaly, he brought up another text-filled screen beside the one opened by Pi.
"It's been extremely quiet since the Cubia incident was resolved," Yata said, a faint smile crossing his face. "Even with this bout of PC altering, it's been some time since the first instance appeared. But now we have a newly-created Tribal Grappler showing similar data. What is it that links the two of you together, I wonder?"
Within the round, green-hued Dome in the virtual city of Mac Anu, a number of players were standing around conversing when a male character with black hair tied into a pigtail warped in next to the Chaos gate. Seemingly unfamiliar with the game, he glanced around at the other players, scratching his head.
"So this is The World, huh?" he said to himself.
The player's name was Ranma Saotome.
Curious about how his character design turned out, Ranma took a quick peek down at his clothing. He was pleasantly surprised by the result.
Just as he'd chosen, he had a mostly white outfit including boots and tight-fitting pants with black lining, a sleeveless, leather top, and a white gauntlet on each hand. It wasn't the flashiest garb, but he felt like it would be efficient when the time came for battles.
Ranma shifted his gaze upward, where he noticed a red streak going down the front left side of his dark hair. "The heck's this?" He lifted up the tip of the red lock for further examination. It wasn't something he remembered adding, but he supposed it wasn't all that important of a detail in the end.
Wandering around the circular room some, Ranma spotted a bulletin board by a set of double doors that read simply, "Welcome to Mac Anu."
"Well, least I know I'm in the right place," he mumbled, recognizing the name of the city from some detailed directions he was given. "Guess I'll try to find Yuu-"
The pigtailed boy blinked as he heard what sounded like yelling coming from outside.
Out of nowhere, the dome's doors burst open and a girl with fiery red hair down to her shoulders stormed inside. A tail-like appendage hung from the side of an orange sash tied around her waist while a white, fan-like accessory on the back of her revealing black top fluttered behind her.
"Look out! Coming through!" she shouted.
Her eyes focused on whatever was behind her, the girl didn't happen to see the unseasoned player standing in her way. With a loud thud, she slammed into Ranma, knocking the both of them to the ground.
"Oww! What in the-?!" she growled, eyeing the player she now found beneath her. "Watch where you're going!"
"H-huh?!" Ranma stammered, still trying to shake off his surprise. "Hey, you ran into me!"
The two of them went silent as they heard a man's calls coming from outside the dome, growing closer by the second.
"Alkaid, my love! There is no need to run from the magnificent Tatewaki Kuno!" he bellowed, his voice laced with passion for the girl as he ran inside after her. His toned chest was visible through the opening in his noble-looking coat—a long-sleeved garment that was a decorative mix of navy blue with white trim, stretching all the way down to his feet along with the dark-colored hakama covering his lower half. "Now, let us go to the Isle of Kings and join together in...holy...matrimony..."
Clearly annoyed, the girl named Alkaid glared up at the brown-haired character with a furious look about her. "Would you leave me alone already, you creep?! I told you, I'm not interested!"
Tatewaki Kuno was aghast as he beheld the sight on the dome's floor. "My love...what is the meaning of this? Who is that man?!"
Glancing down again, Alkaid realized she was practically laying on top of the pigtailed boy, her hands pressed to the ground on either side of him.
Thinking fast, she wrapped her arms around Ranma's head and clutched him to her chest. "This is my man, and he's a lot more of a man than you are!"
"What?!" both Ranma and Kuno exclaimed simultaneously.
Not wanting Ranma to blow her story, Alkaid leaned in close and gave him a sharp look as she whispered into his ear. "It's your fault I couldn't ditch this guy, so you'd better play along. Got it?"
Ranma couldn't believe what he was getting dragged into, and hardly a minute after logging into the game at that. Honestly, he didn't really blame the girl, though; it was his first encounter with this Kuno guy, and he already couldn't stand his attitude. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to stick it to him a little, he figured.
"You owe me," Ranma muttered to Alkaid.
"Is this true?!" Tatewaki Kuno snarled, demanding clarification from the newbie. "Who are you? Name thyself!"
Reluctantly, Ranma wrapped his arm around Alkaid's midsection, smirking up at her pursuer. "The name's Ranma. Sorry, man, but she's already taken."
While the other players in the dome stood by, watching the spectacle with amusement, Tatewaki Kuno angrily pulled out a sword resembling a katana and pointed it down at the one he believed had stolen his love interest. "How dare you?! You...you fiend! You are not worthy of Alkaid's love!"
"Deal with it, you big crybaby!" Alkaid hissed back at him. "Stop embarrassing yourself and leave us alone!"
"Yeah, get lost," Ranma added, rather enjoying riling up the blowhard.
The sword-wielding Kuno gnashed his teeth, but there was nothing more he could do right now. Stepping over to the Chaos Gate, he set an enraged glare upon Ranma. "Remember this, foul wretch! My name is Tatewaki Kuno, Blade Brandier extraordinaire and Emperor of the Arena's Demon Palace! For taking my love from me, I shall smite thee with the fury of a thousand suns! Mark my words!"
After making everyone endure his long declaration, the arrogant Kuno warped away, leaving Alkaid to breathe a sigh of relief.
"We done now?" Ranma asked her.
Growling as the onlookers went about their business again, the girl known as Alkaid promptly hopped to her feet and kicked Ranma square in the gut.
"Hey!" Ranma shouted.
"That was humiliating!" Alkaid roared down at him. With a deep exhale, she seemed to settle down following her initial burst of embarrassment. "A-anyway, it got that annoying guy off my back for now, so I guess it's fine. Even if you use threats or force, he just doesn't give up. I'm so tired of it!"
"Good to hear," Ranma muttered sarcastically, slowly getting himself upright again. "You can thank me later."
"Like I'd thank you for that!" the redhead snapped back at him. "Just so you know, I've already got someone I'm interested in. So don't go getting any funny ideas!"
Ranma watched as Alkaid stomped over to the Chaos Gate in a huff.
"See ya 'round," she said. Still looking somewhat embarrassed, she gave a brief wave of her hand before disappearing to another location.
Ranma, not sure what to make of it all, placed his hands on his hips and snorted in the direction of the gate. "Man, what an attitude."
With that peculiar situation over and done with, Ranma decided to head out. Pushing open the doors leading out of Mac Anu's dome, he took a stroll down the long walkway leading towards the more populated part of the city.
As he looked around at the numerous other players he passed by, Ranma noticed that they were about evenly divided between males and females. He'd always imagined these types of games were mostly played by guys, so seeing this many girls came as a surprise to him. For some players it was difficult to read their genders since they used beast race characters, and there could always be a guy or two that liked playing as a girl character, he figured, but it at least appeared to be a diverse population.
Once Ranma reached the city's central area, he found himself surrounded by tables and displays filled with items and gear. "This must be that market area with all the guild shops he was talking about. It's pretty packed here, huh?"
Wading through the crowd of other players, Ranma pushed his way closer to the large fountain in the center of the market where a particular sight caught his eye.
"Near the fountain and next to a dog-looking character with pink fur," he said, focused on a pair of players standing behind one of the market's displays. "That matches so well it's not even funny."
Ranma wasted no time in heading over to the table, waving to get the attention of a character with a long ponytail and a pale green outfit.
"Welcome!" a rotund, beast character greeted him, smiling happily. "Is there anything in particular you're looking for today?"
"Oh, I'm not shopping, but thanks," Ranma replied, looking to the taller of the two players. "I just came to see Yuuichi here."
The boy with the ponytail cocked his head, giving the character in white attire a curious stare. "Ranma? Is that you?"
"What's up, man? Your descriptions are dead on, y'know that?"
"I can't believe you actually logged in! By the way, call me Silabus here. That's my in-game name."
"Silabus, huh? 'Kay, if that's what you want."
Silabus took a moment to analyze the character class Ranma had chosen. "I see you went with a Tribal Grappler. Why am I not surprised?"
"Hey, I'm a martial artist. After looking at the instructions, I figured this was probably the best fit," Ranma explained.
"Can't argue with that," Silabus said in agreement.
Standing next to him, the small beast character, dressed in a red and orange outfit with black suspenders, gave Silabus's vest a tug. "Hey, who's this guy?"
"Oh, sorry about that, Gaspard!" Silabus chuckled, gesturing towards the new player. "This is my neighbor, Ranma. He and his father moved into the apartment next to mine last month. And Ranma, this is Gaspard, a guildmate of mine. He's a Shadow Warlock, and he's also in charge of our guild's shop."
"Nice to meet ya," Ranma said, nodding his head at the pudgy character.
"Nice to meet you, too!" Gaspard replied excitedly. "Does this mean you'll be joining our guild?!"
"Actually, I never asked him about that," Silabus interrupted, rubbing the back of his head as he looked to Ranma. "We're members of a guild called Canard that was created to help beginners get accustomed to The World."
"Really? Sounds like something you'd do," Ranma casually noted. "So...you don't want me joining?"
Silabus paused, taken aback by the remark. "N-no, not at all! We'd love to have you join us! I just wasn't sure you would want to."
"I only came here 'cause you kept bugging me about this game. What else am I gonna do?" Ranma said. "Count me in."
"Really? That's great! Just a second," Silabus said, tinkering with something on his screen. "There! Did you get the guild invite?"
Seeing the prompt come up on his own screen, Ranma chose to accept it. "Yeah, think that did it."
"Yay! A new member!" Gaspard erupted with glee. "Welcome to Canard, Ranma!"
"Yeah, thanks," Ranma replied, his enthusiasm a few notches lower than his new guildmate. "So, how many people you guys got in this guild?"
Somewhat ashamed, Silabus held up three fingers in response. "Just us three, actually."
"What? Seriously?" Ranma asked, sounding unimpressed.
"Well, we technically have more, but they haven't logged in for quite some time. People move on to other things, you know? Our guild leader, Haseo, still drops by from time to time, but he's usually busy with Atoli in real life."
Thinking about his two old allies, Gaspard snickered to himself. "His girlfriend."
"Ohh, I get it," Ranma replied. "Well, whatever. We gonna go fight stuff now or what?"
"Sure! Nothing like a guild outing to get you acquainted with The World," Gaspard said approvingly.
"Yeah, sounds good." Silabus nodded. "The busy time of day is almost over, so we'll close the guild shop soon. Why don't you take a look around the rest of Mac Anu until we're done, Ranma?"
"All right, think I'll do that," Ranma said, turning to leave. "See ya in a bit."
"Oh, hold on a second!" Silabus called out abruptly.
Ranma batted his eyes as he heard a light dinging noise. "What was that?"
"I sent you my member address," Silabus told him. "Just accept it. That way I'll be able to message you when we're done."
"Oh, good idea!" Gaspard said. "I'll send you mine, too."
Hearing another ding, Ranma fiddled with his controls until both addresses were accepted. " 'Kay, got 'em," he said, heading out for real this time. "Don't take too long."
Elsewhere, standing on the bridge at the Arche Koeln Waterfall, a character with short, silver hair silently watched the streams of water falling in the distance. Dressed in a black corset amongst her other dark-colored attire, she always enjoyed coming to this area because of its feeling of tranquility.
The map was a Lost Ground, its existence not known of by most players, making it a rarity for anyone to disturb the girl. So when she heard the sound of footsteps behind her, she immediately turned to see who it could be. The sight of the visitor's round, orange sunglasses was all it took to put a smile on her face.
"Ovan..." she mouthed, surprised but happy to see her friend again.
The man with short, light blue hair stepped up beside her, a blue scarf shifting atop his long coat. "It's been a while, Shino."
Shino nodded gently, turning her gaze back to the waterfall. "How is Aina doing?"
"She's never been happier," Ovan replied, speaking of his little sister. "And you?"
"You know how I am," Shino said to him.
The man behind the sunglasses chuckled at the response. "I suppose so."
The two seasoned players of The World were quiet for a moment, taking in the feel of the area like old times before Shino spoke up again.
"This world got quiet when Haseo stopped logging in as much," she said, a hint of disappointment in her voice.
"That's true," Ovan acknowledged. "Things have started to get noisy, though."
"You mean the fighting between Moon Tree and Kestrel?"
"No. Something unusual is happening within The World again."
Looking up at her friend with interest, Shino could see a glimmer of excitement in his eyes. "What is it?"
"Time will tell," Ovan told her.
Amused by her old acquaintance's typical, cryptic answer, the Harvest Cleric looked back out at the falls and giggled. "You haven't changed at all."
After exploring Mac Anu on his own for roughly half an hour, Ranma eventually wound up in the city's alchemist district. He talked to a few NPCs along the way and scoped out the shops, though most of it didn't make sense to him yet.
Growing impatient with his new guildmates, he leaned over the district's bridge and stared down into the canal below. "I wish those guys would hurry up. It's boring just waiting around."
All of a sudden, Ranma heard what sounded like an angry grunt nearby. Peeking over to his side, he was met with a flash of aqua blue from a female character's corset. She leaned up against the bridge's railing next to him, her short, teal-colored hair partly hidden beneath a round, white hat with a tassel on one end.
With a star-shaped tattoo on her right cheek that matched the color of her hair, the girl turned and looked at Ranma with an irritated scowl on her face.
"Hey, you," she addressed him, sounding none too pleased, "you're a guy, aren't you?"
Ranma quirked an eyebrow at the girl, unsure of what she might want from him. "Uh...yeah?"
"Then explain something to me!" The girl jumped up and got right in Ranma's face, the white cape on the back of her corset rising and falling with her abrupt movement. "Why is it that every time a guy sees a girl Harvest Cleric, namely me, he has to try flirting with her?!"
Ranma narrowed his eyes at her, not appreciative of being lumped in with the members of his gender with out-of-control hormones. "Beats me. I thought they only hit on cute girls."
"Excuse me?!" she snapped. "Would you mind repeating that?!"
"Yeah, I would, actually," Ranma answered, brushing it off as he rested his chin on his palm. "Why don't you just go along with it and sweet talk them into giving you free items and stuff? I've heard lots of girls do that in these types of games...umm...?"
"It's Akane," the girl said, hopping up and taking a seat on the bridge's railing. "Jeez, you sound just like my sister. I don't want free items. I just want to have fun and be treated normal."
"Hmm...makes sense." Ranma didn't care for her hostility towards male players, but he did sort of admire the fact that she played for the experience and not for the items.
"What's your name again?" Akane asked.
"Huh? Oh, it's Ranma," he said.
Akane turned away from him, appearing upset again. "I bet you hit on girls in your parties, too."
Ranma merely looked up at her in confusion. "What's a party?"
"What's a party?!" Akane asked, spinning around in disbelief. "What are you, a newbie? How long have you been playing?"
"For like an hour. Get off my back," Ranma snorted in his defense.
Curious, the short-tempered girl looked down at the gauntlets on Ranma's hands. She had to stop herself from laughing. "Oh, wow, those are the lowest-level gauntlets in the game! You really are a newbie, aren't you?"
"Would you quit calling me that?!" Ranma snarled. He hated being belittled by people, even if he really was new.
"Okay, okay, I'm sorry," Akane apologized, her demeanor brightening up somewhat. "So, what are you doing just standing around here?"
"Just waiting for someone I know to close his shop or whatever," Ranma replied with a deep sigh. "Wish he'd hurry up already."
"Ohh, so you already know someone here. Well, that should make it easier for you." Akane smiled. "You know, if you want-"
The booming laughter of a man in gold-plated armor made both Ranma and Akane jump and startled everyone within hearing distance. Running along the bridge with incredible energy, he slid to a stop and folded his arms over his chest, posing proudly as he stared out at the numerous players before him.
"Fear not, players of The World! Piros the 3rd is always looking out for you!" he shouted soundly. "Play on, my friends! Play on!"
The bizarre player ran off just as quickly as he'd arrived, leaving Ranma and Akane stunned by the sheer stupidity of what they'd just witnessed.
"What…was that all about?" Ranma asked, his jaw left hanging open.
"Who knows," Akane muttered. "There's all sorts of weirdos playing this game."
An ensuing quiet from the Cleric prompted Ranma to look her way. Oddly, her character was completely still.
"What's up?" Ranma asked, noticing the unusual behavior.
Finally, Akane moved again. "Oh, sorry. My sister was calling me to dinner," she answered, hopping down from the railing. "I have to go eat."
"Dinner, huh? All right." Ranma offered a shrug as he resumed staring down at the canal.
Akane appeared torn as she stood on the bridge, trying to decide whether she really wanted to do something or not. After a brief inner struggle, she gave in and turned back towards the newbie Grappler.
Hearing a familiar dinging sound, Ranma glanced back at the girl standing behind him. "What's this?"
"My member address," she said, clasping her hands behind her back as she strolled away. "You're kind of a jerk, but you're still more tolerable than most guys. And seeing as how I'm such a nice person, I figure I could help a newbie like you out if you ever need it."
"H-hey, I never asked for-!" Ranma began to say, but Akane was already in the process of logging off.
"Bye!" she waved, disappearing before his eyes in a flash of blue light.
Annoyed, Ranma threw his arms into the air and slumped over the bridge's railing again as he begrudgingly accepted the address. "Whatever. Logging off after getting the last word in like that," he grumbled, peering at the new name in his address list. "As if I need an uncute girl like that to help me out."
Ranma stood there with his head resting on one hand again. And stood there. And stood there. That was all he could take. Unable to wait any longer, he decided he was going to coerce his new guildmates into closing their shop early.
As Ranma turned to leave, he suddenly came face-to-face with a taller character dressed in blue and white. Being stared down at through a pair of orange sunglasses, he was amazed that a character within a game could carry such an intimidating presence.
"Whoa! Uh…you're...?" Ranma asked nervously.
"Ovan," the man answered. "We will meet again."
With a faint smirk, the unusual player walked off. Ranma could only wonder to himself just what he meant by that.
"Man, this place really is full of weirdos."
End of Chapter 1